Updated, 12:22 p.m.: Correction: $6 million; Copy edits, information added.
NORWALK, Conn. — Some Norwalk political information for you:
- Norwalk would pay $1 million into teachers’ pensions, under Lamont’s proposal
- Grasso violation ‘would be more urgent’ in Rowayton or Silvermine
- Council set to set cap, opine on Rainy Day Fund
The 2019-20 recommended state budget
“When it comes to balancing the budget, my urgent priority is stabilizing the teachers’ pension fund. It is badly underfunded and doesn’t keep faith with our current teachers, especially the younger ones,” Gov. Ned Lamont said last week in his prepared remarks, as he presented a biennial state budget.
“Many of our school districts have chosen to pay their teachers much more than the state median. … Our budget will ask every municipality to make a contribution toward normal teacher costs, but towns like Greenwich, which pay teachers 30 percent more than the average salary, will pay more toward their pensions,” Lamont said.
Lamont’s recommended budget, a starting point for the legislature, calls for Norwalk to contribute $1,098,729 toward teachers pensions in 19-20 and nearly $2.3 million in 20-21.
Various adjustments in municipal funding amount to an $574,272 increase for Norwalk in 19-20, before you subtract the $1.1 million for teachers’ pensions. This means Norwalk would effectively see a $524,457 increase in expenses.
Again, this is a starting point for the cash-strapped legislature.
Norwalk Communications Manager Joshua Morgan in a Friday email wrote:
“Overall, we are pleased with Governor Lamont’s proposed budget. Although we do not believe it makes sense to transfer responsibility for the teacher pensions to municipalities, this is a fluid process with the State Legislature still needing to review and make its recommendations. The city is well positioned to absorb and react in a number of ways to changes in the state budget. There is plenty of time between now and when we need to adopt our budget.”
Grasso told to stop rock crushing
The City made Grasso Construction haul materials away from the tennis court construction site behind Nathaniel Ely School, Common Council member Ernie Dumas (D-District B) said last week.
“There’s more piles of dirt than what they dug up,” Dumas said.
Grasso brought materials onsite and was told to stop and remove the materials, Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin said Wednesday.
Grasso was hired to remove earth and bedrock from the future location of Grassroots Tennis, Building and Facilities Manager Alan Lo explained recently in an email. The materials from offsite were “immediately removed and we documented it with pictures,” Lo said. “They were told that all additional material that is needed for this job must be crushed off site.
“We are putting pressure on them to put tarps on everything over there,” Dumas said Thursday.
“It’s our ultimate goal to make sure they comply with all the health and safety regulations, Council member Colin Hosten (D-At Large) said.
Council members are conducting an on-site inspection Wednesday, with the Norwalk Health Department and Lo, Dumas and Hosten said.
“If this were happening near a school in Silvermine or Rowayton, I think the response would be a lot more urgent. We want to make sure that we don’t shortchange our neighbors in South Norwalk,” Hosten said.
“They were claiming that (the residents) didn’t have complaints,” Dumas said. “A lot of these folks don’t know, what’s going on, what’s in the air.”
There were five complaints about rats when the work began, he said.
“Not getting a complaint is not a reason to not investigate if somebody is not abiding by the rules they are supposed to be abiding by. If they are in violation, people shouldn’t have to complain,” Hosten said. “Sometimes people don’t realize the rights that they have to a clean breathing environment.”
“Some folks are going to complain over there for the simple reason they are afraid of the violations that might cause them,” Dumas said.
Rainy Day considerations
The Council on Tuesday will vote on a resolution putting Norwalk’s 2019-20 appropriations cap at $351,020,774.
You can expect many opinions expressed about the plan to drawdown the fund balance, or Rainy Day Fund, by $6 million as part of this budget cycle.
“To me, it’s cause for concern,” Council Majority Leader John Kydes (D-District C) said Thursday at the Council Finance Committee meeting, where Committee Chairman Greg Burnett (D-At Large) queried Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton to see if there is some way the Council could mandate that the $2.3 million in Rainy Day funds being sent to the Board of Education be used on the one-time expenses they are said to be earmarked for.
Hamilton, who is helping the City with the budget after the sudden departure of then-Chief Financial Officer Bob Barron, suggested that the Council could pass a resolution to that effect.
The $2.3 million for one-time expenses doesn’t cause a problem next year even with the state minimum budget requirement, because the Board of Education budget is “almost certainly going to go up more than $3.2 million anyway,” Hamilton said.
The City is mandated by law to fund the BoE with at least the amount it was given the previous year, under the minimum budget requirement.
Norwalk has $61 million in its general fund balance, and $57.7 million in the unassigned fund balance. That’s in contrast to $34.6 million unassigned in 2014.
You could fund school construction and avoid interest payments, Council member Doug Hempstead (R-District D) said Thursday, going on to suggest instead that the money could fund road paving, because “they’re bonded for 15 years, they don’t last quite 15 years.”
The Council needs to develop a fund balance ordinance, so it has some say over what the Board of Estimate and Taxation (BET) does about the fund balance, Hempstead suggested.
“We talk about long term planning but we’re really not talking about long term planning, when we are just constantly, any kind of fiscal year, putting a patch on it,” Hempstead said. “Taking the $6 million is taking a patch on it. It’s great financial resources but by the same token, over the last three years if you’re growing that much, that’s tax dollars that could have been in the taxpayers’ pockets versus accumulating in a savings account that we are spending on operating, that we just said.
Council member Darlene Young (D-District B) said she agreed with some of those sentiments, explaining, “As someone who’s new to this process, I think there is some benefit to some long-term strategy or planning that could possibly be done.”
Council member Nick Sacchinelli (D-At Large) also said he’s concerned about drawing down the Rainy Day Fund, explaining, “Our constituents are expecting us to make reasonable decisions. So, we are making these decisions based on the information that is provided us and the information I have been provided for the last four years is be cautious with how you draw down and how it’s applied.”
The startling lack of controversy about this topic overall was evidenced by the lack of attendance at the Committee’s public hearing on the budget – only one person came to speak.
The budget is “woefully neglectful as for as really expanding potential for actual grants,” stalwart critic Diane Lauricella said, expressing “continued concern about the lack of a full-time grants writer in addition to a grants staff.”
Before the meeting began, Kydes looked at Hamilton and quipped, “It’s a fiscal director’s dream: $6 million in the Rainy Day Fund and nobody here.”